Rating: The Good – 80.3 Genre: Thriller Duration: 105 mins Director: Alfred Hitchcock Screenplay: Frederick Knott Stars: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings
One of the master’s best offerings sees Grace Kelly playing the once unfaithful wife to Machiavellian husband Ray Milland who attempts to have her murdered in a seemingly perfectly planned crime. The build-up is as patient as you’d expect from Hitchcock and subtly chilling as Milland methodically plans the crime with self-satisfied precision. Things get interesting when those plans are thwarted and Milland must contend with two other elements, his wife’s former lover Robert Cummings and John Williams as the clever inspector. Dial M for Murder is a thinker as opposed to a shocker but it’s perhaps more satisfying because of it. Similar to Strangers on a Train, this movie is all about devious minds and tricks of fate.
Rating: The Good – 90.2 Genre: Thriller, Mystery Duration: 112 mins Director: Alfred Hitchcock Stars: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter
One of the most innovative and entertaining of all films, this Alfred Hitchcock classic tells the story of an apartment-bound photographer who spends his days following the lives of his neighbours from the window at the rear of his apartment. However, while peering in on the intimate goings on the various personalities, he begins to suspect that one of them has done away with his wife. James Stewart is as usual eminently watchable as the laid-up free-spirit and he brings an enjoyable air to the proceedings. The excellent Grace Kelly is the love interest who hails from wealthy stock and for whom Stewart has mixed feelings. The real star of the show is of course Hitchcock, who’s meticulous crafting of the often explorative courtyard scenes (the area Stewart is peering out into) is a lesson in framing, tracking, lighting, and pacing. Notice how he lures one into the voyeuristic world that Stewart’s character is inhabiting by soundtracking the action with the various sounds and music that the neighbours produce as they go about their daily business. And how he uses that soundtrack to contrast the screaming of the victim against the natural hum of the real world. Rear Window is a fascinating watch because of this technical mastery but it’s also one hell of an enjoyable thriller thanks to a combination of it, John Michael Hayes’ perceptive script (based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story), and the acting from all involved.
Rating: The Good – 96.2 Genre: Western Duration: 85 mins Director: Fred Zinnemann Stars: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell
“It’s all happened too sudden. People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do something about it.” What do you say about a film like this? There isn’t a single aspect to this magnum opus that isn’t perfect. Gary Cooper stars as the town marshal who must stand alone against four craven killers who are bent on killing him for saving the town from them years earlier. Receiving the news, on the morning of his wedding, that the worst of those men is coming into town on the noon train, Marshal Will Kane must leave his new bride and attempt to persuade the townsfolk to stand with him all the while wrestling with his own fear and hesitation.
High Noon quickly becomes a fascinating exploration of pettiness, self-interest, and cowardice as we hear the range of excuses the townsfolk give to convince both themselves and each other that forsaking the marshal is the right thing to do. It’s equally and perhaps more importantly one of the most intelligent and revealing examinations of the hero construct in all of cinema. It deals with the complexities of heroism by championing its essential component of fear, not as a negative like many previous mono-dimensional westerns did but as a healthy indicator of an uncorrupted view of the world. It also realises that most central of truths:- that in order for an act to be brave, one must be afraid of doing it; and what separates the strong from the weak isn’t a lack of fear but an intelligent decision to overcome it. While people like John Wayne (who himself made lame excuse after lame excuse for not fighting in WWII) were denouncing this film as “unamerican” and supporting the blacklisting of its writer Carl Foreman (who did serve in WWII), those who had a clearer understanding of fear and bravery (like those who had actually put their life on the line for a greater cause) recognised this for the complex and deeply perceptive masterpiece it was. Rio Bravo was made as a critique of High Noon and, as a film, it’s brilliant. But as a statement on humankind, it’s embarrassingly simplistic and artificial when held up against Foreman and Fred Zinnemann’s deconstruction. High Noon was written and made by people who understood bravery. People like Wayne clawed and scraped at the concept in a desperate attempt to understand it.
Although the themes underlying High Noon are profoundly framed, their realisation through the various cinematic crafts is spellbinding. Cooper is immense as the frightened yet responsible hero who towers head and shoulders above the rest of the town as they run for cover as soon as their mettle is tested. The reflexive qualities of his performance are striking given the vulnerability he needed to show to get the part right but through his commitment, his intuitive understanding and all round maturity, he brought it home and gave us perhaps the definitive screen hero. Grace Kelly puts in a layered, insightful, and endearing turn as his new bride with a deep seated aversion to violence while Katy Jurado pops up yet again with another magnetic performance as the woman from the past.
What was happening behind the camera was just as impressive. To put it bluntly, Fred Zinnemann’s direction in this film was as ground-breaking and searingly innovative as Sergio Leone’s would be considered 15 years later and, indeed, it can be seen to be directly influencing it in parts. His staging of the exterior shots in particular is visionary and combined with his unerring pacing and the array of devices he innovated to control it, he didn’t just lay the groundwork for the next generation’s star movie-makers but he also added that final touch of class to the more “symmetrical” western, the likes of which John Ford began forging in the 1930’s. High Noon is quite simply the turning point for the western. The pinnacle of that linear format’s execution and the seamless blending of those visual conventions with close-shots of actors eyes and faces, quick cuts, and daring angles – what would soon become the defining visual conventions of the spaghetti western.
Propping all this up is of course Foreman’s script and it is as true, honest, and efficient as you’ll find anywhere. It gets how people talk and when those words are laced with the type of primal emotions that High Noon examines, they ring all the truer. It’s amazing to look back and behold the level of drama which Foreman infuses into the screenplay because the script is actually very streamlined. It had to be to generate the levels of tension it does. But through no small amount of genius (and a cast of fine actors), he engineered that drama into the sight-lines of the script resulting in easily one of the most well balanced westerns. And then, on top of all that (or “inside all that” one should say) there is Dimitri Tiomkin’s score and accompanying theme song. Opening to “Do Not Forsake Me” (sung by Tex Ritter), the film switches between it and the instrumental track which itself becomes a motif for the film’s sentiments and energy. It surely must be one of the genre’s most memorable pieces of music as that foreboding back-beat quite simply seeps into your subconscious. A true, true classic.